Pea Sprouts and Flowering Cherries

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A honey bee on a cherry blossom. When I took this picture, the whole tree was buzzing with insects.

The last chance of frost is quickly approaching.  Already, one late frost hit the peach tree pretty hard and almost all of the blossoms died before starting to set fruit.  Compared to last year, only about one in ten or twenty flowers is setting fruit.  I hope the tree will compensate by making larger fruit, but even if it doesn’t, I’ll be happy with whatever fruit I do get.  I still have several jars of canned peaches in the pantry to use.  The cherry trees and the apple tree missed that freeze and are in the process of blooming, and hopefully the soft freeze forecasted for next week does not affect fruit set.  At least this year, I know which tree is which.  Last year, I mistakenly though the cherry tree was actually an apple.

One of the first five peas that have sprouted.

One of the first five peas that have sprouted.

About a week and a half ago, I started direct planting peas and beans in the garden. So far, the results have been rather mixed.  I have had five pea plants sprout and several of the beans also sprouted.  However, the beans don’t seem to be surviving the cold night temperatures, so it is just as well that the majority of the beans to sprout yet.  I have plans to plant the beans close enough that they basically form a blanket over the garden bed.

The grape vine is starting to put on leaves.

The grape vine is starting to put on leaves.

The grape vines are just starting to put leaves on.  Last year, the grape vines had this happen almost a month earlier.  In general, this growing season seems to be taking its time to get going.  Not that I mind too much.  I just am anxious to start seeing the results of my work.  Last year, was not able to do very much with the grapes I harvested, and almost all of them went into the freezer. Because they are seeded grapes, they are not really useful for eating straight, so grape juice and wine are really the only uses for them and only the grape juice is really an option for me because I refuse to drink alcohol of any form.  The only way I could get juice out was to cook the grapes and then strain them thru cloth.  The resulting juice had oxidized and was not very good.

The steam juicer I used to make fruit juice.  This is the same style of juicer that my wife's grandmother used.

The steam juicer I used to make fruit juice. This is the same style of juicer that my wife’s grandmother used.

About a week ago, I got a steam juicer in and was able to easily turn the grapes into very good tasting grape juice, along with the peach peals and apple peelings and cores.  The juices will probably need to be mixed to get a good final product, particularly with the peach as it is quite tart, but overall, they taste quite good.  The grapes in particular were quite good because the juicer keeps the grapes from oxidizing and giving the juice an off taste.

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Continuing Spring Cleanup

As the weather has been getting warmer recently, I’ve been spending a lot more time outside. With all the extra time I’ve been spending outside, I’ve been able to get several projects started. Things will be picking up more once I get seed and it gets warm enough to start the seeds in the greenhouse and even more once the ground is warm enough to start direct seeding things like beans and corn.

I’ve managed to turn the compost pile over as much as it is going to be and wet the whole thing down as I did so. I’ll probably give the compost pile another month or so to cook before I start using it for seed starting and amending the garden soil. Now that I have the space, I can get the leaves from around the property raked up and start a new compost pile for next year and get the leaves out of the way at the same time.

I’ve been inspecting my seed starting equipment and getting it ready for use this year. I don’t think the seed starting trays are going to survive much longer. The clear tops have discolored a brownish-yellow color that will probably affect their usefulness and the bottoms are slightly warped. I would really like to have starting trays made from a more resilient material like a hard rubber, but I haven’t really gone looking for such a thing yet.

The new door fit into the door frame

The new door fit into the door frame

The greenhouse has also been getting some work. I’ve filled a few more cracks that had cold drafts coming thru them by cramming newspaper down them. I’ve also been building a new door out of scrap pallet wood. The old door was destroyed in the wind last year. Because of this, I’ve made sure the new door is very strong to the point of over-engineering. I still need to finish the door, but first I need to get more pallet wood as all that I have recovered, I have used to build the door to where it is. At least it now fits into the opening. The frame is somewhat crooked, so the door had to be adjusted to fit in.

Planting a potato from the kitchen counter

Planting a potato from the kitchen counter

Yesterday, my wife gave me a bag of potatoes that has been sitting on the counter long enough that the potatoes sprouted and told me to get rid of it. So I when out to the garden and stuck them in the ground. I don’t know how well this will work, but if any of them survive, it will be more than I would have otherwise.

Fence relocation in progress...

Fence relocation in progress…

I’ve also started to relocate a fence on my property. My puppies – really large dogs – have been getting the better of a couple of sections of the wire fence held up with metal poles that are anchored only in the dirt. So to remedy this, I’ve been moving a section of fence that has been an annoyance since moving in. Taking down the horizontal boards was fairly straight forward because of my experience with taking pallets apart, but I ended up breaking a couple of the board because the boards were so old and fragile at places where there were large knots in the wood. The verticals are going to take a lot longer because about a whole third of the poles are buried in the ground, making them very solid.

Next Bean Harvest Getting Close

Some of the pinto beans nearing harvest.

Things have been very slow around here lately.  The plants are doing basically what they do: grow very slowly. The pinto beans have filled out very nicely and one of the two fall plantings is getting close to harvesting.  I should be able to harvest sometime in the next few weeks.  I think I will be getting considerably more beans than the harvest earlier this year.  The beans were planted much closer than previously.  I like how this turned out enough that I will intend to do this from now on.  I have a few more patches of beans growing in the garden that are probably  a month behind these.  If this winter is anything like last, things will be very mild and I should be fine, but there is always the chance of a surprise frost from mid October on.

Jars of apple sauce and dried apple chips.

I finally managed to get the apples finished last week.  I ended up turning the remainder into apple sauce and canning it.  Doing everything manually takes a lot of work.  I was only able to make about two or three quarts in a given evening and it left me quite exhausted.  Things like this remind me how much I have been spoiled with food so far.

Chives gone to seed. I’m hoping to collect these seeds for next year.

It is about the time of year to start thinking about the next year.  There is still a huge list of things that need to get done.  Finishing up the harvest, planting fall garlic, adding compost and manure to the garden before putting it to bed for the winter.  I plan on planting lots of pinto beans next year, but I am also thinking of trying a few more things.

A honeybee on a cluster of flowers.  This flower I got from my grandparents.

I want to try planting a small plot of buckwheat.  This should give me something like a grain and also provide a good nectar source for the bees in the spring and fall when they really need it.  But first, I want to get a separate garden plot for it because buckwheat has a tendency to drop some seed before it can be harvested.

Each year is a new start with gardening, and I feel like I have learned a lot in my first year.  Maybe by the third or fourth year I might start getting good yields from the garden and I can start being more adventurous with my plantings.  I enjoy trying to make the future into the present.

First Harvested Tomatoes

Nice, ripe tomatoes.

Over the past week, I’ve started harvesting the tomatoes.  So far, I’ve gathered eleven tomatoes.  One of the first things I noticed about them, especially after reading an NPR article on heirloom tomatoes, is the “green shoulders” the tomatoes have.  This is apparently something that pretty much all heirloom tomatoes have and is one of the reasons that heirloom tomatoes taste different from the tomatoes available in the supermarket.

Pinto bean plant with pods a day or two from being ready to harvest.

The other harvest I have going on right now is pinto beans.  I have been getting a nice steady harvest since the first pods I pulled off the plants.  The number has steadily increased over the past two weeks.  Now I am getting about thirty pods a day.  I have easily recovered the seed beans I planted this year and I don’t  see the harvest stopping for several months.  The first row of beans directly planted in the ground is starting to flower and in a few weeks will have their first bean pods starting to grow.  It is about a month after the first pod appears to when the pods can be harvested.

A double row of bean sprouts. In a week or two, this is going to be a nice, thick row of bean plants.

Last week, I planted another set of bean plants directly in the ground.  This time, I am trying a double row of beans to see how that works.  I hope it works well, as using a double row should allow me to plant the beans more densely in the garden plot, meaning more beans in the same amount of space.  I was planning on just using beans as a green manure, but now that it seems likely that I will be able to get beans off these plants, I will take all the beans I can get.  I’m interested in seeing how many I can get before frost kills the plants.

Zucchini, Pumpkin and Squash Bugs

The two zucchini I picked today. My hand for size reference.

Today, I harvested the first two zucchini from my garden.  One of the two I probably should have picked a couple of days ago, but at least it is done now.  I weighed them together in my spring scale and got 0.91±0.07 lbs.  Figuring out that amount has me questioning the accuracy of my scale calibration.  It is still better than no scale at all.

A nice-sized pumpkin.

I found that one of the pumpkins is growing very well.  I have no idea if I will be able to get any food from these.  The pumpkin the seed came from was used as a jack-o-lantern.  The whole plant was an accident as I never intended to plant pumpkins.  There were some pumpkin seeds in the compost I brought with me from my previous residence that decided to start growing out of the compost pile.  Next year, I will be putting them into a more convenient location that doesn’t get in my way when I try access the compost pile.

Squash bugs on my pumpkin plant.

I found some bugs about a week ago on one of my zucchini plants.  Today, I found some on the pumpkin plant.  In both cases, my response was to squash all the bugs I could get my hands on and to remove any eggs I found.  Turns out these are squash bugs.  For now, my response to these pests will be to squash all the bugs I can get my hands on.  If it gets beyond my ability to keep up with them, I will probably get either diatomaceous earth or pyrethrin.  Both of these are almost non-toxic substances.  The first is fossilized shells of microscopic organisms and the latter is extracted from the seed pods of Chrysanthemums and both are safe for use around bees.

First Strawberry, Tomatoes plus a Storm

Today, I noticed that the strongest of my strawberry plants has its first fruit.  This is the most successful of the plant starts I got from my grandparents, via my mother.  They are offering me lots more strawberry starts as well as lots of irises.  My grandparents raise and sell irises and I think they have  several dozen varieties.  Anyways, this plant has one strawberry already turned red and at least three more fruits on developing.  The plant has also sent out two runners and I will likely be getting at least three new plants from it.  After they have developed a bit, I will transplant them to a better spot.

Green tomatoes. And here I was thinking it was going to be another month before I saw any…

After I noticed the strawberries, I noticed that several of my tomato plants have put on fruit. All told, there are currently seven green tomatoes growing and several more flowers that appear to have been pollinated and will be setting fruit soon.  As a side note, tomatoes are botanically fruit, but are considered vegetables by chefs, cooks, and the IRS.

The anvil of a storm that is moving in from the west side of Oklahoma.

It looks like there is a storm on the way here. Not that this is any out of the ordinary here. I am hoping for rain so I can stop using well water to irrigate the garden.  The rain barrels in the greenhouse and the one next to the house are extremely low, to the point that I cannot draw any more water from them.  The garden hose doesn’t quite reach everywhere in the  garden, even at a hundred feet long and even if it did, it is very cumbersome to use in the narrow rows in the garden.  For the most part, I’ve been using a pitcher to water the plants.  It more walking than a hose would be, but lets me use a rain barrel to water the plants and only the plants.

Something is Eating my Veggies!

Something ate my beans!

This afternoon after I got home from work, I discovered that something has eaten lots of my plants.  I have noticed this in the past few weeks, but previously it has just been the peas and one or two beans.  This time, seven of my bean plants have been eaten as have almost all of the eight cabbages I planted two days ago.  I think the rabbit I saw near the garden a few days ago is responsible.  I’m not quite sure what I can do to stop it.  My current strategy is to just plant lots and hope that some survive.  I suspect that I will end up putting some sort of fence around my garden plot to keep rabbits and other animals out.  I’m not too happy about that, but it may be the only thing that works.